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by Ulrich Seidl

grade: 8.5

Absent from the 76th Venice Film Festival, Ulrich Seidl couldn’t present Wicked Games, his newest work. Yet, the controversial Austrian director is now at home at the Lido. Suffice it to say that his international notoriety was officially achieved in 2001, when he presented in competition Dog Days, which won the Grand Jury Prize.

Whoever is without sin…

Absent from the 76th Venice Film Festival, Ulrich Seidl couldn’t present Wicked Games, his newest work. Yet the controversial Austrian director is now at home at the Lido, where he has returned again and again over the years. And although, today, many festival visitors have already watched a lot of his films, international notoriety was officially achieved in 2001, the year Seidl presented in competition his Dog Days, the film that shocked everyone and won the Grand Jury Prize.

Already popular in Austria for many years, Seidl has always railed against hypocritical and do-gooder Austrian society, showing, time after time, all their most deplorable habits. In Dog Days, for example, there is a particular trigger that makes people suddenly show their true personalities. That factor is an unusual heat, a climate so torrid that it makes people keep their fans on constantly. And so, in this sunny southern suburb of Vienna, we witness many stories put together only thanks to a weird girl with Asperger’s Syndrome (played by excellent Maria Hofstätter, Seidl’s favourite actress), who usually asks for car rides to everyone she meets. She will be the one, with her naive and indiscreet questions – together, of course, with the unusual heat – who will make many of the people she meets lose their minds.

And so we immediately see how the static camera shots of bodies lying under the sun that seem to be part of the set design frequently alternate with moments in which the handheld camera moves quite frenetically. This is not so usual for Seidl’s style, who often prefers static and perfectly symmetrical shots. Yet in Dog Days, this works. And it also helps to blur the line between fiction and reality. A border that, in the works of the Austrian director, one never knows precisely where it lies. In this work, therefore, in addition to skilful direction, the choice – together with established performers – of non professional actors contributes to this effect. And each of them, for his part, can be said to be a truly successful character: from the widower who asks his housemaid to replace his deceased wife to the teacher who is constantly mistreated by her lover, from the girl pressurised by a jealous and violent boyfriend to the sketchy security equipment salesman, not forgetting the couple who, following the death of their daughter, still live together without speaking to each other.

The light, on the other hand, plays a fundamental role here in Dog Days: set up by Wolfgang Thaler (with the help of Jerzy Palacz, who later became Ulrich Seidl’s right-hand man), it immediately looks bright and almost blinding, fully conveying the idea of the burning sun, which only makes everyone more nervous, almost blind. All this leads to a crescendo of unbearable emotional stress that seems to have almost the same effect on the audience as the heat has on the protagonists.

A fresco, this in Dog Days, of a society in which – with a few exceptions – no one is really innocent, but, on the contrary, is deeply guilt-ridden, constantly hiding their meanness behind a subtle mask of respectability. An issue, this one, dealt with over and over again (most recently, for example, in the remarkable In the Basement, presented out of competition at the Venice Film Festival 2014, as well as in the shocking Safari, also presented in Venice in 2016), which, over the years, has become a true trademark of the renowned director. And if a sudden deluge apparently wants to erase everything that has happened in the past, as well as the faults of the protagonists, everything, on the contrary, seems irretrievably destined to be forever remembered. As if, in fact, there were no hope of salvation.

Original title: Hundstage
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country/year: Austria / 2001
Running time: 121’
Genre: drama, grotesque
Cast: Maria Hofstätter, Alfred Mrva, Erich Finsches, Gerti Lehner, Franziska Weisz, Rene Wanko, Claudia Martini, Victor Rathbone, Christian Bakonyi, Christine Jirku, Viktor Hennemann, Georg Friedrich, Christina Horvath, Ingeborg Wehofer, Karl Christoph, Edith Helm, Peter Kristek, Alfred Strobl, Editha Maurer
Screenplay: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz
Cinematography: Wolfgang Thaler
Produced by: Allegro Film, Essential Filmproduktion GmbH

Info: the page of Dog Days on iMDb